Dragonmarks: Origin Stories

Recently I made a post about developing origin stories for my new RPG Phoenix: Dawn CommandIn Phoenix, the PCs aren’t casual adventurers; their world is facing a mysterious and terrible threat, and the narrative is about fighting that Dread and trying to unravel its mysteries. As such it’s vital for every character to establish what they are fighting for. Further, the protagonists of Phoenix have died and returned imbued with new skill and supernatural power, and the type of Phoenix you become is determined by the nature of your death and the lessons that you learned… so it’s important to think about who your character was before they became a hero, and exactly how they died.

In Phoenix, this is a cornerstone of the story that drives the campaign. In Eberron — or D&D in general — that’s not always the case. If you know you’re just doing a straight-up dungeon crawl, it may be that the only thing that really matters is your statistics. But even so, what I love about RPGs — as player or GM — is the fact that we’re building a story together. And I want my character to be someone whose story I’d like to know. I could be a 1st level human fighter — done. Or I could be a dragonmarked heir who broke ties with his house to fight for Cyre, because he truly believed their cause was just and the Sovereigns were on their side. Now the war is over, and the Mourning shattered his faith and destroyed everything he loved. Will he try to get back into his house? Will he seek out Prince Oargev and fight on behalf of the Cyran people? Will he find his faith again in a divine revelation, and take levels of paladin or cleric? Will he be approached by the Twelve to become part of a secret group of excoriates doing deniable missions for the houses, or uncover a Quori infestation that’s taken over his old family? I don’t know. But I’d love to see any of those stories play out. And even if we DO just go on a few dungeon crawls, I still feel like this is a character and not just a set of numbers.

If I want a campaign with a clear focus, I’ll often talk to the players and encourage them to come up with a shared character concept that gives them a clear connection from the start and defines the direction of the campaign. Perhaps they’re all members of the Boromar Clan. Or they’re all agents of the Royal Eyes. Or they’re a Valenar warband. Or they all fought for Cyre in the Last War. Or they own an airship. Everyone understands the core story — “We’re all secret agents” — and they should come up with a concept that fits that.

But sometimes it’s more fun to have everyone come up with a unique character that doesn’t have any pre-existing connection and to have the campaign be what brings them together, and that’s what I’d like to explore now… when you’re making a character on your own, but want to develop a compelling story.

Eberron gives a number of handles for you to latch on to. The Last War is one of the easy ones. The war only ended two years ago. If you have the skills of a player character, you’re a capable person… so did you fight in the war? If so, who did you fight for? What did you do? How do you feel about the outcome? If you didn’t fight in the war, why not? What did you do instead? Did you oppose the war or simply find a different path? Personally, I often choose Cyre as a nation for my PCs because the concept of having lost everything is a strong foundation for why a person would become an adventurer. They have no home to return to; everything they once had is gone. So why not seek their fortune in an unconventional manner? On the other hand, there’s ways to do this with any nation. Consider…

  • I fought for Karrnath during the last War. But I’m a follower of the Blood of Vol, and King Kaius betrayed us. Now my friends and family are pariahs in my homeland. I’m equally angry at Kaius for turning on us and on the Order of the Emerald Claw for taking actions that turn the world against us… and if I every have the chance, I’ll make sure that both Kaius and the Emerald Claw pay for what they’ve done.
  • I fought for Thrane during the Last War, as a paladin of the Silver Flame. I love my home and my family, but far too often my duties as a soldier seemed to be at odds with what the Voice of the Flame tells me is right.  I fear that ruling Thrane distracts the Church from its true mission and invites corruption, and I want to protect the innocent – all innocents – from supernatural evil, not serve the cause of one nation over others. So I have struck out on my own, following the Flame as I hear it.
  • I fought for Aundair in the Last War, as youngest son of a noble family of wizards. My parents urged me to stay in the army; there can be no true justice in the world until Galifar is restored. But I know that I will never reach my potential studying with military preceptors. Beyond that, I feel that if Aundair is to triumph in the next war, it needs more than just well-trained wizards. It needs to unravel the mystery of the Mourning. It needs to learn the epic magics of the giants and the dragons. I have left my nation in pursuit of power, but it is always a part of me and I will return.
  • I fought for Breland during the Last War. I’m proud of what I did, but I was looking forward to coming home and hanging up my sword for good. Instead I returned to find my family and friends (being extorted by the corrupt watch/murdered by Daask/squeezed by the Twelve/consumed by a Cult of the Dragon Below/haunted by an ancient curse). I may not serve the crown any more, but it looks like my war has just begun.

When developing a character on your own, it’s important to remember that you will be part of a group. So however powerful and compelling your personal story is, it has to be something that can accommodate other stories. If your backstory is I must get to Thronehold to stop the second Mourning, it’s hard to explain why you’d take a break from that quest to help a friend or investigate a murder. While with the examples above, the goals are long-term as opposed to being urgent. The Karrn generally hates Kaius and the Order of the Emerald Claw, which gives the DM two hooks they could use… but he doesn’t have a specific Emerald Claw plot he has to deal with RIGHT NOW. The Aundairian wants to uncover magical secrets, so any story that could justifiably include an opportunity to learn something new will be of interest… and if nothing like that shows up, there’s no reason she can’t do something else while waiting for the next opportunity. You want a backstory that can add a sense of depth to any situation — not one that’s entirely reliant on the whole group embracing your personal story.

The Last War is one easy source of character hooks. The Dragonmarked Houses are another. Here’s a few ideas off the top of my head:

  • You’re a dragonmarked heir working as an agent of your house. You have a patron in the house who may offer you advice or assignments.
  • You’re an excoriate unjustly banished from your house and you want to find a way to clear your name.
  • Your parents were excoriates. As a foundling, you have to decide if you want to return to the house… and is there a mystery to solve or a feud to settle involving your parents’ excoriation?
  • Your parents were remarkable artificers who made a breakthrough and then were mysteriously killed/vanished/were ruined. You believe House Cannith was responsible and have sworn to take vengeance on the house. Are you correct? Or might you uncover some deeper truth as the campaign goes on? This same premise could be translated to any house; just change the occupation to match the house’s sphere.

In the recent Phoenix post I presented a number of more exotic backstories. Even these can be adapted to Eberron if you use some imagination.

  • The Ship’s Cat is the idea of an unnaturally talented child. Personally, I am a strong advocate of changing the flavor of mechanical elements to fit the needs of a story. In this example, I’d be open to the idea of letting the player use the mechanical statistics of a halfling, even though for other purposes (including Dragonmarks) we’d consider the character to be human.
  • The Adventuring Archaeologist doesn’t require any unusual mechanics, but it is also about the story… the idea that the character is driven to uncover some of the secrets of the world. In this case, I’d advise picking a mystery that’s big enough that it doesn’t have to be solved all at once. For example, you could be intrigued by planar incursions, wanting to investigate the Xoriat incursion that destroyed the Empire of Dhakaan; the Quori-Giant Conflict; and along the way, perhaps you will discover evidence of previously unknown planar incursions, either something that happened in the past or an incursion that’s about to happen. Or perhaps you want to uncover magical secrets, looking for forgotten lore of the Culsir, the Qabalrin, or even the dragons themselves.
  • The Old Soldier is a concept closely tied to Phoenix: a hero of a previous age who has returned to accomplish a task in the present day. But there’s a few ways to explore the same idea in Eberron. The article Dolurrh’s Dawn presents an entire village of reincarnated legends. You could be a creation of Mordain the Fleshweaver or House Vadalis — you have the appearance of the legend, but are you truly the hero reborn or are you some sort of trick? Alternately, the Watchful Rest is a sect that maintains that Aureon and the Keeper preserve great souls from Dolurrh so they can be reborn when needed… could this be your story? Obviously it may be odd if you’re starting at a low level when you were once a hero… but this can still be justified as your full memories not having been instantly restored.
  • The Bad Dog is a bigger challenge. Equipment isn’t important in Phoenix, so the idea of playing a talking dog doesn’t create as many challenges as it does in D&D. With that said, you could certainly play an animal reincarnated into human form. The question then is who performed the spell. Were you the companion of a lone druid, who may have died themselves? Or do you have a connection to one of the druidic sects? Like playing a warforged, an animal reincarnated into human form is an interesting opportunity to explore what it means to be human.

I have a lot of fun building backgrounds with my players for their characters, and I always try to encourage them to develop a story or even run through character background quizzes if they are stuck.

Presenting concrete questions is a good way to help players who don’t know where to begin. Phoenix has a list of basic questions people answer as part of character generation. When I do one-shots, I often present people with multiple-choice questionnaires to give them a quick jump into the world; you can see an example of this in this set of pregens for Phoenix.

Recently I have started a roleplay exercise where in between sessions we will ask background questions that may not come up in game, but help shape the character. The goblin PC might hail from Darguun, but how does he feel that his parents were Cyran? The old orc Gatekeeper lived a full life before he ever left the Marches, so does he see his children or have they grown into adventurers of their own?

This is an excellent approach. When a campaign just begins, people don’t know who their characters are, and trying to nail down this level of detail is simply going to be overwhelming. But as the players become more familiar with their characters, it can be be a lot of fun to explore further during downtime. In Phoenix we encourage players to talk about what happens between missions – Interludes – during these “offline” times.

Do you have any suggestions for characters from lands outside of the Five Nations such as Xen’drik natives coming to Khorvaire, or ways for a Seren to get pulled into the Last War?

It’s a pretty broad question – “Xen’drik natives” covers a lot of ground. But focusing on the Seren, with answers that could apply to some Xen’drik backgrounds…

  • Following a personal divine vision
  • Sent by tribal leader/mystic/dragon to accomplish a quest
  • Driven by insatiable curiosity; you want to see the entire world.
  • Exiled from your tribe for a crime (was this justified, or are they innocent?)
  • Seeking vengeance on foreigner who came to your land and did something terrible; realizes it will take a long time to find this person and to gain the power/allies needed to defeat them, but starting that journey.
  • Same as above, but consider that “a foreigner” could be “a Dragonmarked house” – you’re going to bring down an organization that has done you wrong (better match for Xen’drik than Seren, but still).
  • A foreigner lived among your people. Depending on race, they could have been one of your parents, or could have been your mentor or best friend. Following your death you have traveled to their land to find the truth to their stories/finish the quest they never completed/avenge them/carry out their dying wish.

I used a variation of that last one with the Ghaash’kala half-orc paladin I played in the last 5E Eberron campaign I was in; my father was a paladin from Thrane who came to the Demon Wastes & lived among the Ghaash’kala, dying long before I ever knew him; in the campaign, I was dispatched to the green lands with my father’s sword with a specific mission (protect one of the other PCs, a mysterious reincarnation of Jaela Daeran – long story) but I personally wanted to learn more about my father and why he’d left his homeland.

As for what could draw them into the Last War? Mercenary work. Friendship — fighting to protect their best friend, even though they know nothing of the politics of the war. A vendetta against an enemy commander; they don’t care about the war, they were just hoping to get close enough to kill the commander. Testing the skills of these foreign soldiers, while honing their own.

If you have any questions — or if you’d like to share your own favorite origin story — post them below!

19 thoughts on “Dragonmarks: Origin Stories

  1. Keith – you point out (and I wholeheartedly agree!) that in character creation, one should remember that one is playing as a part of a group, and so should have goals that are compatible with those of the other players. However, one of the examples you give (the Aundairian wizard) points to an intriguing possibility – the time bomb character. Consider one of theAundairian’s goals: understanding the Mourning. While this is a gret pot hook in and of itself, the other PCs might reflect upon the implications. If one KNOWS that the Mourning was a freak occurance, and not tied to the War…then the Next War may start, as the Nations no longer have to worry about triggering Mourning II – The Sequel. Or, if one KNOWS how the Mourning was triggered, and how to definitely aoid it, then, same conclusion, say hello to the Next War. Third, if one knows HOW to trigger the Mourning, then maybe Aundair gets to reunite Galifar (“Join or die!”), unless the other nations desperately launch a pre-emptive strike, or, worst case scenario, the Dragons decide that this is not a power humans should possess and decide to make Aundair (or the Five Nations or Khorvaire as a whole) into New Xen’drik in their thorough fashion.

    With these possible scenarios, the Aundairian and their fellow PCs might have become the gest of buddies and loyal companions, but dare they let their Aundairian friend get close to their goal? Or does Frodo have to get thrown into the Crack of Doom forthe good of Middle-earth? (Oops, slipped setttings there!) Or does the Aundairian have to be stopped, despite his good intentions and their friendship, to save all of humanity?

    I find the notion of characters who can work together well in the sort-term, but in the long-term are doomed to come into conflict to be really intriguing. I don’t knowif I’d have the guts or smarts to play such a character mysef, but …

    • Absolutely. Personally, I like characters that are flawed – where the player knows the character is making a terrible mistake, but that’s the story they want to explore.

      In one campaign I ran, I had a player using a variant of the Karrnathi story I suggest above. They were a paladin of the Blood of Vol whose parents had been killed because of Kaius turning on the Blood. The backstory was that the PC had been taken in and mentored by Erandis Vol, and raised determined to avenge his parents and bring down Kaius… and thus, he was looking for PC allies to help him in this quest.

      The PLAYER knew that he was being deceived by Erandis & that killing Kaius was a terrible idea that would throw Karrnath into chaos, and the idea was that after he succeeded (if he ever did) he’d discover Erandis had been duping him, and that the next arc of his story would be about trying to clean up the mess he’d made and bring down Erandis. What I liked is the fact that the player flat out started on the assumption “My character is a dupe of an evil mastermind & will discover this down the road” – not requiring me to trick or manipulate him, simply deciding that that this is the story he wanted to explore.

      And you’re absolutely right. The answer to the Mourning could have terrible consequences — what would the other players do?

  2. I’d like to read something about druid sects background. How a character join the sect? Does it means he is not “free”?

    Btw I like a variant of the karrnath
    and I want to use it: the Pg is a nationalist of the order of the emerald claw. He has no idea of erandis plans. He just think Kaius did a terrible decision but he will work for the best of his nation, the king want it or not.

    • I’d like to read something about druid sects background. How a character join the sect? Does it means he is not “free”?

      I don’t think we’ve suggested that the Eldeen sects are anything other than voluntary in membership. I could imagine a mystical brand or something similar used to mark people who have done something wrong and are thus cast out of a sect, but I don’t think any of the sects are too intensely tyrannical towards members. I think it’s a voluntary organization based on shared belief and respect for both the leaders and the traditions – more like a wolf pack than a corporation – and you’re expected to work your hardest because you share those beliefs. But every time I’ve run a game with an Eldeen ranger or druid in the group, it’s always been under the premise that they’re either working on an extended mission or that they’ve been released on walkabout and are acting on their own authority.

      • I am sorry, I didn’t explain properly. The main point is that eneter in a Druid sect is, in some way, leave everything back (exept for wardens, maybe). So there is a story that brought you to be a Children of the Winter, a Greensinger or an Ashbound and is a story of the kind you are talking in the article: you have a new life and mission into the sect. But most of the suggestion you gave don’t fit too much into a druid’s path.
        Also, I was wondering if you consider the sects “free” or more suitable in a campaign like “you all are a valenar warband/you all fought for Cyre”.

        • So there is a story that brought you to be a Children of the Winter, a Greensinger or an Ashbound and is a story of the kind you are talking in the article: you have a new life and mission into the sect. But most of the suggestion you gave don’t fit too much into a druid’s path.

          Certainly. If you’re playing a character who’s part of a druidic sect, you want to decide both how you came to join the sect and how that led you to be on the road as an adventurer. The same is true for other faiths: if you’re a paladin of the Silver Flame, how did you receive your calling? Are you part of the established hierarchy of the church, or are you a free agent?

          Off the top of my head, there’s three basic paths that apply to all of these things.

          1. You have been assigned a mission by a leader within your church/sect. As a Child of Winter, your mentor has sent you to go gather information about the Mourning, and when you’ve discovered something, you’re supposed to return and share that information so they can decide what to do next.

          2. You are loyal to your church/sect, but are acting as a free agent-at-large with no specific mission. As a Child of Winter, you’ve been sent out into the wider world, but it’s up to you to decide what actions best serve your cause.

          3. You have broken with your church/sect, and may even be being persecuted by them. As a Child of Winter, you feel that the Elders are misreading the signs: these AREN’T the last days, and the apocalyptic plan the elders are working on needs to be stopped. You are searching for the proof that will help you make your case, or failing that, allies who will help you stop their plan.

          Like I said, the same principle holds for a follower of the Path of Light, cleric of the Undying Court, or any other faith. Are you an authorized agent with a specific mission? A free agent acting on your own judgment? Or a renegade who no longer has the support of your group?

          If I had an hour to spare, I could come up with specific examples for all sects and faiths, but I don’t have that time. Still, the general principles here could apply to any of them.

          • Thanks Keith. The idea of a PC fighting both the hierarchy of the sect and the enemies of the sect is intriguing. I like the possibility of having a children of winter in a good party. I am wondering if it’s possible to do something similar with a gatekeeper.

            • Like the Blood of Vol, the Children of Winter are often painted as entirely evil when they’re primarily just very grim. The Children of Winter see death as a natural part of life. They dislike things that interfere with that cycle. But as a general rule, they don’t actually WANT to kill anyone… unless it’s necessary in order to restore an upset balance. They are violently opposed to undead, and if you have a storyline that involves fighting the Emerald Claw or other undead, it’s easy for a Child of Winter PC to be at the forefront of that struggle. If you WANT to use the Children of Winter as villains, you highlight the idea that they think that the Mourning proves that Winter is nigh and it’s their job to help push it over the edge; but if you don’t want them to be the villains, you can focus on them trying to understand and even reverse the Mourning – to STOP things from reaching the point that Winter is inevitable. Or walk that middle line and say there’s a sect leader pushing to trigger the apocalypse, but the PC CoW is searching for the answers that will prove them wrong.

              As a secondary point: Even with the idea of the CoW wanting to usher in the apocalypse, they want to do it because they believe it’s a necessary part of a cycle of global rebirth: we must have Winter before we can have a new Spring. So again, while they may SEEM bleak and evil, it’s actually because in THEIR minds they are pushing towards a golden age. It’s not entirely unlike the Kalashtar, except what the Children of Winter are saying is that we have to endure the bad time before we can get to the good time.

              And I’ve certainly had Gatekeeper PCs in games I’ve run as well. Again, the Gatekeepers are a small order that have every reason to send lone agents out into the world, whether in pursuit of specific goals or simply to watch for signs of Khyber resurgent. In one of the campaigns I was in (the 5E campaign where I was playing my changeling rogue) one of the PCs was a Gatekeeper druid who was carrying one of the Daelkyr seals as an amulet; part of his job was to keep moving, so it couldn’t be tracked down by those who would destroy it.

        • Also, I was wondering if you consider the sects “free” or more suitable in a campaign like “you all are a valenar warband/you all fought for Cyre”.

          You can certainly have individual characters from a sect adventuring with a mixed group of adventurers, following any of the paths suggested above. I’ve had a few Gatekeeper and Child of Winter PCs in games I’ve run mixed in with other adventurers.

  3. I have a lot of fun building backgrounds with my players for their characters, and I always try to encourage them to develop a story or even run through character background quizzes if they are stuck.

    Recently I have started a roleplay exercise where in between sessions we will ask background questions that may not come up in game, but help shape the character. The goblin PC might hail from Darguun, but how does he feel that his parents were Cyran? The old orc Gatekeeper lived a full life before he ever left the Marches, so does he see his children or have they grown into adventurers of their own? How does the Thuranni treat members of the Phiarlan house who may have been close relatives in youth?

    It has been a great way to add depth to characters that goes beyond what is seen in combat, and as my players learn the world their characters become more complex and fascinating.

    Do you have any suggestions for characters from lands outside of the Five Nations such as Xen’drik natives coming to Khorvaire, or ways for a Seren to get pulled into the Last War?

  4. Here I go wandering off topic again…you mentioned above the concept of reversing the Mourning. I’m curius as to your thoughts on who would…or woouldn’t…want to reverse the Mourning if they could. Here are some of mine:
    The Four Nations – If Cyre was once again a green and pleasant land, now depopulated, it would be prime real estate. Butif the price is the Next War?? Both Kaius and Boranel seem to consider an enduring peace as top priority, and so might hesitate. Aundair and Thrane, maybe not. But Boranel has a secondary interest: if Cyre was again available, he could end the New Cyre refugee situation and still be a good guy If Breland backed Prince Oar’gev’s play to reclaim Cyre, he’d owe the Brelish a big one.

    Prince Oar’gev – Itwould seem obvious that the Prince would want to reverse the Mournaing. But wouldhe? Oar’gev is smart. He has not army that could hold the territory. Ifhehad the power, he might want to bide his time until he could line up the allies he’d need toclaim the Cyran throne and hold it.

    Darguun – Yes, I would think. They’d be in a good position to claim a chunk ofsouther Cyre and expand. Plus, the bidding for Darguul mercanaries woud openup again.

    Valenar – Hell, yes! They don’t want the territory, but a new war? Yay!

    The Lord of Blades – Hell, no! Who wants all those dirty flesh bags marching back into his territory?

    Droamm – No apparent interest…but a renewed war would re-open the aret formercenaries. On the other hand, if anyne other than the possible instigator, already knows what caused the Mourning, Sora Terazawould be a good candidate. Perhaps she is inscrutably sitting onthe secret already, waiting forwhatever unfathaomable cue her visions have shown her to act on the knowledge.

    The Twelve – Presumably, House Cannith would like to have access to Whitehearth again, but Cannith is divided. On the whole, theother houses would probably like to see the Mourning reversed, but subtle political and economic calculations would have to be worked out before acting.

    The Aurum – Same as the Twelve.

    The Chamber – Who can say? Perhaps the Dragons know, but are awaiting the moment that the Prophecy dictates to cleanse Cyre.

    The Daelkyr, the Lords of Dust, the Inspired – Again, who wknow? While any of them might served by poling a stick into the Peace of Khorvaire, any of them would probably act only if it served one of their long-term goals.

    Of course, a GM could ascribe any motives they want to any of these groups if it would make fo ra good story, right? Anyway, thanks for your patience, keith!

  5. A trick I used in my current Eberron campaign is:

    Every PC had a “flashback” adventure that put them in the context of the Last War, and then they came together after the war for a Rememberance Day ceremony, and through hijinx ended up saving a chunk of Sharn from a magical bomb.
    In gratitude, and in hopes of tying the band to Sharn to hopefully serve the city’s interests again, their ally of sorts, a Brelish noble some of the group had saved from ritual sacrifice on the Day of Mourning, gave them the villain’s rather large townhouse, which he happened to be the landlord of, and got the city to pay to upgrade it to the group’s specifications.

    Over the course of those adventures, I gave the PCs “homework” in the form of questions.

    1) where did you go after the War, and what did you do there? Not in detail, just generally.

    2) Who, if anyone, did you lose in The Mourning?

    3) name 3 people you know.
    3a) 1-2 you met between the Day of Mourning how who you know reasonably well, how you know them, where they live/work, and what they do.
    3b) 1 person you’ve known longer, probably from home, or at least from before the war ended.
    3c) bonus round, do you have a rival, enemy, annoying frenemy, foil, etc?

    4)what do you want to accomplish? What goals, quests, missions, etc hang over your head?

    And then I found time between sessions to meet in groups of 1-3 players and myself to sort of play through some of the intervening time, using 5e downtimes rules (my variants, usually), to figure out how much money they have, if hey have made progress on research, learning languages/tools, making contacts, etc.

    As a result, we all had a lot of fun all before we hit lvl 4, and I have tons and tons of plot hooks, and the players have all manner of insight into their characters that normally takes a lot longer to develop.

  6. Hi Keith,

    Love the dedication you have to us fans of Eberron–thanks for always taking time to answer.

    In one of the responses above you said, “It’s not entirely unlike the Kalashtar, except what they’re saying is that we have to endure the age of il-Lashtavar before we can get to il-Yannah.”

    I was always under the impression that the kalashtar were ACTIVELY opposing and trying to push the turning of Dal Quor’s age, while the Inspired are trying to HALT its progression and preserve il-Lashtavar forever. Am I wrong? In general, do the kalashtar have a patient “the age will turn eventually, let’s just endure until it does” view, or are they “hey, we need to flip the thing AS SOON AS POSSIBLE” approach?


    • My response was unclear, and I’ve edited it accordingly. When I said “… except what they’re saying…”, the ‘they’ was the Children of the Winter; I was explaining how they differed from the Kalashtar belief.

      The Kalashtar say that we are in the age of il-Lashtavar, and they are actively trying to turn the age to il-Yannah. By contrast, the Children of Winter are saying that there is a dark age that isn’t upon us yet, but MUST come and be endured in order for us to get to a new and better age.

      With that said, the Kalashtar differ in approach. The Kalashtar of Adar largely say that their devotions alone ARE pushing the turn of the age… while others (mostly in Khorvaire) argue that more active measures are called for.

  7. In my Pathfinder RPG games, I give out bonus Hero Points for in-depth backgrounds. Instead of just walking stat-blocks. A 1st level cleric is fine. But what about an inquisitor of the Silver Flame trying to root out potential subversives in the church. That’s someone I want to hear about.

    • But what about an inquisitor of the Silver Flame trying to root out potential subversives in the church. That’s someone I want to hear about.

      In one of my favorite campaigns, one of the PCs was a changeling PC of the Silver Flame. His backstory was that he’d lived a cloistered life and then discovered that his mentor was involved in corruption within the church. His world was broken, and he didn’t understand the IDEA of corruption. So he ran off to Stormreach to basically try to dive into the underworld and take a master class in corruption… all with the long term goal of eventually being able to return and make a difference in the church. There was a lot of interesting material to work with, and it was an interesting way to have a fundamentally good character who was nonetheless TRYING to get into trouble.

  8. Delving into the origins of a character is a very important part of discovering their full identity, and while I might start running with a fairly thin concept for a character, I generally end up fleshing out background at least in general terms as I continue to get a feel for them. I’m even in the process of writing a story now that covers the events of another story’s character’s arrival in Korranberg after a harrowing flight from Darguun slavers that left her seriously injured.

    Sometimes the key thing is just a core plot hook and thinking about how it plays into certain key moments. What happens to a Zil gnome who suddenly manifests not just an aberrant dragonmark, but one that casts *Erase*? Such a thing might seem kind of weird and innocuous in some places, but a society of gnomes takes threats to their books *very* seriously.

    When I’m choosing a character’s race or societal associations, I’m often looking at it more for the points of contrast a character has with their fellows rather than for commonality. What cultural norms don’t sit quite right with this character? What makes this character seem a bit odd to her peers? How might someone reconcile being a scion in good standing of House Jorasco but being unwilling to train and act as a healer? How do they meet their obligations to the Healers Guild? What about a character estranged from their people so young that most of what they know of them was learned second-hand? Are they so integrated into some other society that they almost might as well be a different race? Or do they still identify with their people despite hardly knowing them? Do they realize just how much of an outsider they would be among them after being among others so long?

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